The spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantining have been devastating to most retail stores, and unlike Wolverine or Deadpool, comic book stores have not been immune. However, like Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” #33, Farmington’s Tales of Tomorrow is hanging in there.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham loosened restrictions on nonessential businesses, effective May 16, allowing retailers with COVID-safe practices in place to reopen at 25% capacity. The modified order also requires face masks in public places. Due to the high risk of COVID-19 spread, businesses in the northwestern corner of the state, San Juan, McKinley, and Cibola counties, are excluded from the modified order and can only reopen for curbside pickup.
As such, Tales of Tomorrow, the only independently-owned brick-and-mortar comic book store in the Four Corners, was limited to only selling mail-order comics until it reopened for curbside pickup on May 16. In the early days of the epidemic, the store tried selling curbside, but this soon became untenable as a result of the constantly shifting rules, said owner Steve Clark.
Not that there have been new comic books to sell for most of the shutdown.
The largest American comic book companies — DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics, among others — are all distributed by the same company: Diamond Comic Distributors. (When asked to look into it in the late ’90s, the government dismissed the idea that this might be a monopoly because comics are only a small fraction of publishing in general.) And when Diamond shut down on April 1 to protect its own workers, it de facto shut down the rest of the industry as well. Most publishers stopped releasing comics entirely and halted production on upcoming titles. Some continued to release digital comics on platforms like Amazon’s Comixology, but others decided to wait out the shutdown.
Fortunately, for anyone who was left hanging in the middle of a story arc, Diamond will resume distribution on May 20, which is when new inventory should begin flowing into Tales of Tomorrow. But there’s still no telling when the store will be able to entertain customers inside its building.
As a comic book shop, Tales of Tomorrow and its conjoined Cosmic Cafe are more than just a bookstore and coffee shop — they’re a regional hub for all things geeky. In the months before the coronavirus hit, the store was hosting screenings of “Star Trek: Picard,” trivia nights, and cosplay events including sketch nights and workshops where people could build Mandalorian helmets.
As such, Clark is encouraging local comic book fans to order comics from his store instead of, say, Amazon, in the same way people are ordering meals from their favorite restaurants more often than usual to make sure they stay in business. The store had already fallen on hard times before the epidemic, asking the community for help in the form of a GoFundMe page it launched in late January.
In addition to its website, Tales of Tomorrow is taking orders by phone at (505) 324-0222.
Wondering what to read as we all wait for the crisis to end? Clark recommends:
• The comic book adaptation of Chick Hogan and Guillermo del Toro’s vampire horror novel “The Strain” — “It’s a lot of fun and has some eerie echoes of what’s happening in real life.”
• “The American Vampire” series by Scott Snyder — also a horror book, but more on the order of escapism.
• Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” — “It’s weird and rewards repeat readings.”
• “All-Star Superman,” also written by Grant Morrison — “It will leave you feeling hopeful.”